Operational flood forecasting, warning and response for multi-scale flood risks in developing cities

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    Project Idea and Concept

    Rapid urban expansion, notably in the developing world, has led to substantial increase of risk of flooding in cities, not just from rivers, but often also from destructive flash flooding and debris flows in marginal settlements in the outskirts. Additionally damage due to floods in developing cities is often aggravated by pollutants in the flood waters as a consequence of limited coverage of drains and sewers. It is often the poor who live in marginal settlements of these cities that are most vulnerable. Both the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and the World Meteorological Organisation underline the role of operational flood warning as a key flood risk management strategy, recognising preparedness, warning and response effective in breaking the typical disaster-recovery cycle, thus leaving more room for sustainable development.

    While the potential of forecasting, warning and response is recognised, the practical application is often less clear. Establishing a sustainable system is a significant challenge, particularly so for the urban areas in the developing world where insufficient or lack of data make operational forecasting a difficult task. This research will concentrate on two cities in Colombia; Bogotá and Cali. These cities are ideal as a case study, as there are significant challenges in managing flood hazards at different scales, including flooding in Bogotá from larger rivers such as the Rio Bogotá, but also flash floods in the Limas watershed and the Tunjuelo river. In Cali there are significant issues with water quality. Particularly in the southern area of the city where there are problems with polluted water surcharging from the sewage/drainage system during storm events. This canal flows in to the Rio Cauca, and particularly the pulse of polluted water at the start of a storm event threatens the water supply to the city, the intake of which is downstream of where the South Canal enters the main river.

    The FORESEE project aims to advance understanding and practical application of science that emergency authorities in these cities can use to provide effective warning to those at risk. Research will focus on methods for forecasting and warning at different spatial and temporal scales in what are often data poor environments. These forecasts can be utilised as an input to the warning and response process where people at risk are informed so that they can move to a safer place. Additionally forecasts can be used in the dynamic management of reservoirs and/or volumes in for example sewer networks to minimise flood peaks and water quality issues. Key focus areas and challenges include development of novel methods and tools for providing effective support to the warning process and operational management, as well as the difficulty of dealing with a high degree of uncertainty both due to data scarcity and high spatial and temporal variability of the process itself. Through collaboration between focussed research groups, and the (emergency) authorities responsible for operational management and warning the project aims to not only provide outputs that are of scientific interest, but that are also applicable in a practical environment.



    Contact person

    e-mail address


    UNESCO-IHE, Delft, the Netherlands

    Micha Werner, MSc, PhD

    project leader

    Dirección de Prevención y Atención de Emergencias, Bogotá, Colombia

    Maria Carolina Rogelis, MSc


    PhD candidate

    Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia

    Prof. Nelson Obregón, MSc, PhD



    Cinara Insitute, Universidad del Valle, Cali, Colombia

    Alberto Galvis, MSc



    National Weather Service, Silver Spring, MD, USA

    Pedro Restrepo, Msc, PhD


    Scientific Advisor

    Deltares, Delft, the Netherlands

    Micha Werner, Msc, PhD



    UPaRF is a new research fund that has been created as of January 2008 by UNESCO-IHE to finance research in the water sector. This fund has been designated as the UNESCO-IHE Partnership Research Fund (UPaRF). The main objective of UPaRF is to focus, strengthen and accelerate the research agenda of the UNESCO-IHE itself as well as the UNESCO-IHE Partnership, in co-operation with its partners. This new UPaRF fund combines funding sources from the DGIS UNESCO-IHE Programmatic Cooperation (DUPC), and the basic subsidy granted to UNESCO-IHE for research.

    The FORESEE project is one of seventeen current projects, ranging from small-medium sized research programmes such as FORESEE where research is carried out primarily by a PhD student with several associated MSc project, to large research projects involving several PhD candidates and post-docs.

    Links to other UPaRF projects:

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